My family never really had a lot of traditions. Before we moved from Bangkok to New York, we didn't celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. After my father passed away a few days after my seventh birthday, it was hard to celebrate that the week ended with life and death.
After I met my friend, we loved traditions. Even though he grew up on American holidays, he always felt that they were never really his, unlike those of his parents. When we moved in together, we had vowed to create more than new found families to have something we could call ourselves.
A tradition that our friends could always rely on was to have a hot pot on his birthday. It is a Chinese meal that consists of a central pot of boiling broth that you use to cook raw meat, vegetables, and noodles. I am not sure how exactly this tradition started. Sometimes we did it at home and in other years we tried a new restaurant because New York has so many. But we knew that since 2011, in late March, we would always have had this meal together because it gave us a feeling of togetherness that was equally chaotic and delicious.
This year was obviously different. Since all of our friends were quarantined at home, we couldn't risk people having dinner with us because we wanted to make sure they were safe. Instead of giving up tradition, I wanted to give him a birthday, as I knew it: by building him in The Sims.
Through the game, I found all of our best friends and their significant others, with all the qualities that I knew and loved about each of them. I also made sure that his sister, who had moved to New York a month ago, and our Chicago friend, who was due to visit us on his birthday before unnecessary trips were discouraged, were part of the party – as it should be was before the world changed significantly.
A hug has become something we have to resist
It's surreal how a goofy simulation game can feel so lifelike. When our guests arrived, they went straight to the birthday boy to give him a warm hug – a jerky reminder that something that used to feel so simple and everyday was now something we had to resist. When Sim's friend finished cooking a giant soup (the next thing the game had that looked like a hot pot), our friends gathered over the pot of food and sat close together while smiling and laughing.
It was also fun to see how Sim versions of our quirky friends behave no different from their real peers. When trying to throw away party plates, one of the guests knocked over an entire trash can and remained embarrassed for the following hours. The girls peeled into another room to chat and left their friends behind to have their own little slope. Even our friend from Sim Chicago quickly became the life of the party. As soon as he sat down at the table, his stories and jokes were the focus – everyone wanted to know what was new in his life. Even in a simulated world where you can cook better by watching enough TV or immediately being hired by applying for a job, things felt … normal for a brief moment.
For a brief moment, things felt … normal
After blowing candles and serving cakes, some friends made their way home. His Sim sister stayed true to shape and helped clean up – and even put back the trash can that had been knocked over hours ago. She was always the kind, selfless person who went out of her way to make you happy, and I have no idea when I will see her again in person.
As my virtual family and friends danced the rest of the night, I felt wistful at the birthday party that could have been – one surrounded by hugs, meals together, and laughter. The last time I wrote about The Sims, I said that life is not as easy as clicking a few objects in the house and building your mood metrics to stay away from sadness. It still isn't. But now, when I see my Sim friends hug and watch these tiny, pixelated mouths turn into smiles, so does mine. Because when it's all over, the first thing I do is put my arms around everyone I love, knowing that those of us who can do it will never let go.